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Northeast Foraging…and Is It Spring Yet?

magnolias-smThe magnolias are in peak bloom, many of the cherry blossoms have opened, the daffodils are showing off…but seriously folks, there was snow on the ground yesterday. What’s up with that?

Nonetheless, the foraging season is in full swing with daylily shoots already approaching the too tall to be tender stage, mugwort, violets, and garlic mustard are up, and there’s field garlic galore.

spring-forage-sm

The “yard squid” (young dandelion crowns) are almost finished, which I’m kind of sad about because they are by far my favorite part to eat of dandelion. Here they are battered (some acorn in the batter) and fried and served with a dipping sauce.

yard-squid-sm

The dandelion plants are starting to bloom, at which point the leaves get too bitter for my tastes, but ah, dandelion wine, dandelion root “coffee”…

Japanese knotweed is also at prime harvesting size right now in NYC.

And violets, with their mild-tasting edible leaves and flowers are just starting to flower. Mostly I’m tossing them into salads, but maybe I’ll go for that electric blue syrup again.

Do you know how far behind I am on updating this blog (hangs head in shame and embarrassment)? My new book Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries was officially released two weeks ago and I’m just now getting around to announcing it here (hey, I was busy actually foraging, and teaching, and…)

I’ve updated my events page to include upcoming botany+food related events (including foraging tours) in Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx, plus a trip to the North Carolina Wild Foods Weekend, where I get to be the keynote speaker at the end of the month. I’ll also be in Massachusetts at the beginning of May to do a talk and book signing for a private botanical club.

Whew. End of shameless promo. Back to the plants and the food and the life.

Cheers,
Leda

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Good-bye, Brooklyn, and Hello, Northeast Foraging

Just over a week ago two extraordinary things happened in my life: I moved out of Brooklyn, which was my home for almost two decades, and I received my author’s advance copy of Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries. The book arrived on my very last night in the Park Slope homestead I had lived in for almost 11 of my years in BK.

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Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries
is a field guide that Timber Press and I have been working on for two years. The book is available for pre-order, and if you order now it will be in your hands by the start of April - just in time for the northeastern foraging season to get into full swing.

I’ll let others do the rest of the shameless promo for me at the end of this post, but first I want to remember my BK homestead:

GT a.k.a. Gitania

GT a.k.a. Gitania

Mom trimming CSA green beans in the garden.

Mom trimming CSA green beans in the garden.

Main room in da Slope

Main room in da Slope

Ella at the top of the garden stairs

Ella at the top of the garden stairs

The back door

The back door

I spotted this fellow a few days before I moved. He's in the branches of one of the over 14-foot tall elderberry shrubs that I started from 7-inch slips.

I spotted this fellow a few days before I moved. He's in the branches of one of the over 14-foot tall elderberry shrubs that I started from 7-inch slips.

Advance praise for Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries

Leda Meredith has produced the best foraging guide for the Northeast–a book that wild food gatherers of all skill levels will want to own.”

Sam Thayer, author of The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants
and Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

Leda Meredith’s Northeast Foraging is that rare field guide where you sense the guide is a living presence right beside you as you are out foraging for edible wild plants. Leda writes with such a personable “trailside” manner that you come to feel you’re having a conversation with her about what you’re finding, how to be certain it’s what you want, and how to gather and prepare it for eating or preserve it for later use. This is as close as you can come to having the author take you by the hand.”

Gary Lincoff

Author of The Joy of Foraging: Gary Lincoff’s Illustrated Guide to Finding, Harvesting, and Enjoying a World of Wild Food
and instructor at The New York Botanical Garden

“This book is loaded with useful, accurate info about wild foods and what to do with them, and it’s entertaining too. Whether you’re a beginner or expert, you’ll love it as much as I did.”

Wildman Steve Brill, America’s Go-to Guy for Foraging

Leda Meredith possesses a depth of knowledge about wild edible plants surpassed by few modern foragers, and her Northeast Foraging will become an invaluable guide for the feast in the East. I especially love her tips on preserving the wild harvest — Nature waits for no one, and Meredith knows you must gather while you can. I will be sure to carry this book with me whenever I am east of the Great Plains.

Hank Shaw

Author of the James Beard Award–winning website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook,

Author, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast,

and Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild

“What I love about this book is that it’s not simply a guide to plant identification. Leda sets you up with the framework for what it means to forage as an undertaking. Mandatory guide for any Chef who is serious about foraging in the Northeast.”

Tom Kearny

Chef at The Farm on Adderley

Order Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries

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My Transcontinental Pressure Canner

Notice anything odd about this photo of my suitcase while I was packing it for a recent trip from Brooklyn to California, and then back to NY followed by Jerusalem via Moscow?

canner-packed

Yes, that large shiny thing in the middle. That’s a pressure canner. A brand, spanking new one. But I already had one in Brooklyn, where my tiny one bedroom can’t really hold too many objects as large as this one.

That’s not why I packed it, though. I packed it because I was about to be on the road for 2 months, with a deadline on a food preservation book at the end of that time. I need my food gear with me while I finish the food pres book.

So I stuffed the canner full of clothes. My suitcase didn’t quite close, but I rigged it with some wire twisted and tied between the zipper pulley tabs. And I took it to CA, and back to NY. It followed me through a brief layover in Moscow, and now it’s here with me in Israel.

Where I just finished canning some fish stock in it (it is no longer a virgin canner). Our favorite fish monger at the souk (market) was happy to give us fish heads and bones for free, and I hate to waste free food.

stock-jars

If you’re still not sure why I had to haul this piece of equipment with me across a continent or three, here’s the deal:

You can safely can fruits, pickles, and tomatoes (with added acid) in a boiling water bath using nothing fancier than a big, deep pot and some canning jars and lids. But to safely can un-pickled vegetables and any animal product, you need a pressure canner.

Of course, there are also other food preservation methods including fermentation that don’t require special equipment. But I’m covering ALL of the food preservation methods for my book - you get why I need my gear with me?

Yeah, you can buy pressure canners here. But I already had an extra one, so it seemed silly to spend the money on a third pressure canner. Anyway, all’s well that ends well: me and my pressure canner are safely here in J-town.

(Warning: Shameless Plug) Want to pre-order my next books?:

Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries

Preserving Everything: Can, Culture, Pickle, Freeze, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke, and Store Fruits, Vegetables, Milk, Meat, and More

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Cold Weather Foraging

chickweed-medAs temps drop, I’m gearing my Mother Earth News foraging blog towards plants that can be harvested even when nights are below freezing. Here’s the first in the series, on chickweed (Stellaria media).

Today I did a quick foraging foray for magnolia buds and sassafras twigs. I had an accomplice, I mean apprentice, along with me ;) The super-efficient, bee-line foraging I would’ve done by myself was contrasted with wanting to share as much information  as possible with today’s foraging buddy.

And that highlighted something I often mention when I’m leading foraging tours: an experienced forager doesn’t just wander out into the landscape hoping to find something to eat. She knows which plants are in season, and which ecosystems (pine barrens, garden weeds, deciduous forest, etc.) they are going to be found in. The odds are ever in her favor when she sets out on her treasure hunt armed with this knowledge.

Late fall and winter are not bad times for foraging if you know what you are looking for, especially if you identified the plants during the warm months when they still had flowers and leaves. The takeaway here is that foraging is a year-round pursuit: what you learn in summer will serve you when there is snow on the ground.

But don’t worry if you’re new to this and too eager to wait for next spring: I’ll be sharing lots of cold weather foraging tips over the next few months!

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Something for Nothing Recipes

I love something for nothing recipes so much that I’m considering writing a whole book full of them (okay, not until after I finish writing the current one). What I mean by something for nothing is taking scraps that would otherwise end up in my compost bin and turning them into good, useful pantry items.

Here are a couple of suggestions:

homemade chicken stock

While you’re making the Thanksgiving stuffing, stash the tail ends of celery, onions, parsley stems, etc. in the freezer rather than tossing them. Use them along with the bird carcass to make turkey bone soup stock once the festivities are over.

And if you’re making apple pie (or applesauce, or any other apple recipe), don’t throw out the cores and peels! Use them to make apple scrap vinegar, apple jelly, and homemade pectin.

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Holiday Recipes from Leda’s Urban Homestead

With Thanksgiving around the corner, I’m in a holiday prep state of mind. Here’s some of the stuff I’ve been experimenting with in the kitchen. I’ve linked to the recipes where possible:

bw-ice-cream-sm

Black Walnut Ice Cream. This one is thanks to my mom, Jackie Gordon, and Nicole Taylor, with whom I spent a fun few hours shelling black walnuts.

Naturally Red Spiced Apple Rings

apple-rings-sm

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

ricotta-sm

Jellied Cranberry Sauce with Spicebush and Orange. If you didn’t forage any spicebush berries earlier this fall, or if Lindera benzoin doesn’t grow where you live, you can either use the spice substitution I suggest in the recipe, or order some spicebush from Integration Acres (they sell it as “Appalachian Allspice”).

jellied-cran-sm

Homemade Bacon I used some of this in a dish for a holiday brunch yesterday (the recipe has been dubbed “L’eggs Meredith”). Kind of a cross between eggs florentine and eggs benedict: I did the whole poached egg on an english muffin covered with hollandaise thing, but under the each egg was a melange of lamb’s quarters greens and homemade bacon bits.

bacon-sm

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Seasonal Shift

Although I consider myself a summer child most comfortable in warm breezes, scant clothing, and bare toes, over three decades in the Northeast have made me an appreciator of sudden seasonal shifts. And I’m not talking about the obvious calendrical ones of Spring/Summer/Fall/Winter. As any forager or gardener knows, there are seasons within seasons.

virginia-creeperFor instance, just a week ago the wall of my apartment building and the wires between buildings were scarlet with Virginia creeper leaves. But those are almost all gone now. Now I see the quirky curves of sassafras branches against the sky, and curse the squirrel who dug into my potted parsley to bury a black walnut.

I probably don’t need to tell you that last weekend’s resetting of clocks also contributes to this sense of abrupt seasonal shift. It gets dark so early! It happens every year, and yet every year I am surprised by it.

The foraging season isn’t over, though. Far from it. There are rose hips to gather, and it actually hasn’t been cold enough yet for the Jerusalem artichokes to be as sweet as I like them.

Meanwhile, I’m supposed to be writing my next book. The productive procrastination that is apparently part of my writing process is going very well. This week it included making green tomato and pear chutney, paneer, and ricotta.palak-paneer

Speaking of books (ahem), Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries will be out next April, and is available for pre-order now.field-guide-cvr

Happy November,

Leda

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Foraging Frenzy

I’ve been busy, busy, busy writing about foraging, teaching foraging, making videos about foraging, and I even managed to sneak in some actual foraging time for myself. My favorite find of the past week was butternuts.

butternutsm

But I’ve also been collecting spicebush berries and beechnuts, and the ever-present smorgasboard of wild edible leafy greens.

I’ve got three foraging classes left this season, one in the Bronx and two in Brooklyn. The info is here if you’d like to join me.

I just did a really interesting interview about foraging for an upcoming online event on sustainable food systems. At least, the questions were interesting and hopefully I held up my end. If you’d like to hear it, just sign up here. It’s free.

I’ve also been writing a foraging blog for Mother Earth News. My latest piece on Hen (hen of the woods, a.k.a. maitake mushroom) should be up within a day or two.

Last but very certainly not least on the foraging front, I heard from my editor at Timber Press yesterday that the proof pages of Northeast Foraging: 120 Delicious Wild Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries are on their way to me. Homestretch for that project, which I’ve been working on for the past year and a half! It will be available in March, 2014.

Here’s a video on edible sumac that I did recently. It’s still in season in many places, so I hope this inspires you to make use of this tangy wild ingredient:

How to make sumac-ade

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Breakfast with Cesar - Smokin’!

We met Cesar at 6:30 a.m. in the Ramot Forest of Jerusalem. The intention was for him to show us how he smokes fish. While the fish started its long smoke, we’d have breakfast. Some of you may recall that breakfast with Cesar involves vodka (yes, even at that hour).
cheers

Not just any vodka, in this case, but tarragon-infused vodka that was lightly sweet and absolutely delicious. He doesn’t extract the tarragon tincture-style straight into the vodka. Instead, he makes tarragon sugar by alternating layers of fresh tarragon leaves and sugar and letting that sit for a while. Then he sifts out the leaves and adds just enough of the tarragon sugar to the vodka to give it a hint of sweetness and tarragon perfume.

The vodka was poured before the coffee was ready. It was that kind of morning.

Meanwhile, Ricky got a fire going and made us a hearty breakfast of fried eggs plus the ubiquitous tomato and cucumber salad of the Middle East, and some good bread and cheese. The coffee came along about the same time as the second shot of tarragon vodka.

huevos

Once breakfast was served, we put some dampened wood chips and fresh rosemary on the coals.

rosemary-fire

Here’s our not-fancy-but-functional smoker:

Our low-tech smoker: holes in the bottom of a big can plus two on the sides for a wire to run through

Our low-tech smoker: holes in the bottom of a big can plus two on the sides for a wire to run through

We strung the fish (mackerel) through its eyeballs on the wire running through what would become the top end of the smoker.

mackerel

And then we went back to eating breakfast, sipping beverages, watching the dogs romp, and communicating in a mx of languages and charades.

smoke-it

I tried a small nibble of the fish part way through its smoking and it was delicious, although Ricky thinks we had the fire going too hot. We saved the final product to share later with Cesar and his lovely wife Marina.

lunch-c-m

Leda’s Urban Homestead videos on YouTube

Leda on Food Preservation

Upcoming Classes and Foraging Tours

The Locavore’s Handbook: The Busy Person’s Guide to Eating Local on a Budget

Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes

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Edible Wild Plant Videos

slow-food-foraging2The past month I’ve been busy teaching foraging, writing about foraging, and, well, actually foraging for edible wild plants. I love it that I rarely have to actually buy a vegetable at this time of year because there are so many delicious ones ready to harvest for free.

lambs-quarters-sm

I’ve also started sharing some brief tutorial videos about foraging, food preservation, and other urban homesteading skills on my youtube channel. Here are  my first three (be kind; the learning curve is steep!):

Japanese Knotweed: Eat the Invader

How to Make Violet Flower Syrup

How to Harvest Wild Ginger Sustainably

I’m going to be putting up more food preservation videos soon (in case you wished you could be peering over my shoulder while I test for that elusive jelly gelling point, etc.)…stay tuned (and thanks for putting up with this shamelessly self-promoting post!).

Busy, but yay! In all good ways. Hope you are having a glorious Spring.

The Locavore’s Handbook: The Busy Person’s Guide to Eating Local on a Budget

Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes

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